The Silence Wager

folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 1351
edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2000-2013


Contents

  1. The Farmer, His Wife, and the Open Door (Pakistan).

  2. Story of the Third Brahman (India).

  3. The Opium Eaters and the Open Gate (Turkey).

  4. Sennuccio and Bedovina (Italy).

  5. The Wager (Italy).

  6. The Porridge Pot (Flanders).

  7. The Obstinate Shoemaker (Denmark).

  8. Johnie Blunt (Scotland, Robert Burns).

  9. The Barring of the Door (Scotland).

  10. The Beggar and the Five Muffins (India).

  11. Link to an article from W. A. Clouston, Popular Tales and Fictions: Their Migrations and Transformations (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1887), vol. 2, pp. 15-26: The Silent Couple.

  12. Link to an article from the American Journal of Philology (1922): The Silence Wager Stories: Their Origin and Diffusion.


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The Farmer, His Wife, and the Open Door

Pakistan

Once upon a time a poor farmer and his wife, having finished their day's labor and eaten their frugal supper, were sitting by the fire, when a dispute arose between them as to who should shut the door, which had been blown open by a gust of wind.

"Wife, shut the door!" said the man.

"Husband, shut it yourself!" said the woman.

"I will not shut it, and you shall not shut it," said the husband; "but let the one who speaks the first word shut it."

This proposal pleased the wife exceedingly, and so the old couple, well satisfied, retired in silence to bed.

In the middle of the night they heard a noise, and, peering out, they perceived that a wild dog had entered the room, and that he was busy devouring their little store of food. Not a word, however, would either of these silly people utter, and the dog, having sniffed at everything, and having eaten as much as he wanted, went out of the house.

The next morning the woman took some grain to the house of a neighbor in order to have it ground into flour.

In her absence the barber entered, and said to the husband, "How is it you are sitting here all alone?"

The farmer answered never a word. The barber then shaved his head, but still he did not speak; then he shaved off half his beard and half his mustache, but even then the man refrained from uttering a syllable. Then the barber covered him all over with a hideous coating of lampblack, but the stolid farmer remained as dumb as a mute. "The man is bewitched!" cried the barber, and he hastily quitted the house.

He had hardly gone when the wife returned from the mill. She, seeing her husband in such a ghastly plight, began to tremble, and exclaimed, "Ah! wretch, what have you been doing?"

"You spoke the first word," said the farmer, "so begone, woman, and shut the door."




Story of the Third Brahman

India

My name was originally Anantya; now all the world call me Betel Anantya, and I will tell you how this nickname arose.

My wife, having been long detained at her father's house, on account of her youth, had cohabited with me but about a month when, going to bed one evening, I happened to say (carelessly, I believe), that all women were babblers. She retorted, that she knew men who were not less babblers than women.

I perceived at once that she alluded to myself; and being somewhat piqued at the sharpness of her retort, I said, "Now let us see which of us shall speak first."

"Agreed," quoth she; "but what shall be the forfeit?"

"A leaf of betel," said I.

Our wager being thus made, we both addressed ourselves to sleep, without speaking another word.

Next morning, as we did not appear at our usual hour, after some interval, they called us, but got no answer. They again called, and then roared stoutly at the door, but with no success. The alarm began to spread in the house. They began to fear that we had died suddenly.

The carpenter was called with his tools. The door of our room was forced open, and when they got in they were not a little surprised to find both of us wide awake, in good health, and at our ease, though without the faculty of speech. My mother was greatly alarmed, and gave loud vent to her grief. All the Brahmans in the village, of both sexes, assembled, to the number of one hundred; and after close examination, every one drew his own conclusion on the accident which was supposed to have befallen us.

The greater number were of opinion that it could have arisen only from the malevolence of some enemy who had availed himself of magical incantations to injure us. For this reason, a famous magician was called, to counteract the effects of the witchcraft, and to remove it. As soon as he came, after steadfastly contemplating us for some time, he began to try our pulses, by putting his finger on our wrists, on our temples, on the heart, and on various other parts of the body; and after a great variety of grimaces, the remembrance of which excites my laughter, as often as I think of him, he decided that our malady arose wholly from the effect of malevolence. He even gave the name of the particular devil that possessed my wife and me and rendered us dumb. He added that the devil was very stubborn and difficult to allay, and that it would cost three or four pagodas for the offerings necessary for compelling him to fly.

My relations, who were not very opulent, were astonished at the grievous imposition which the magician had laid on them. Yet, rather than we should continue dumb, they consented to give him whatsoever should be necessary for the expense of his sacrifice; and they farther promised that they would reward him for his trouble as soon as the demon by whom we were possessed should be expelled.

He was on the point of commencing his magical operations, when a Brahman, one of our friends, who was present, maintained, in opposition to the opinion of the magician and his assistants, that our malady was not at all the effect of witchcraft, but arose from some simple and ordinary cause, of which he had seen several instances, and he undertook to cure us without any expense. He took a chafing-dish filled with burning charcoal, and heated a small bar of gold very hot. This he took up with pincers, and applied to the soles of my feet, then to my elbows, and the crown of my head. I endured these cruel operations without showing the least symptom of pain, or making any complaint; being determined to bear anything, and to die, if necessary, rather than lose the wager I had laid.

"Let us try the effect on the woman," said the doctor, astonished at my resolution and apparent insensibility.

And immediately taking the bit of gold, well heated, he applied it to the sole of her foot. She was not able to endure the pain for a moment, but instantly screamed out, "Enough!" and turning to me, "I have lost my wager," she said; "there is your leaf of betel."

"Did I not tell you," said I, taking the leaf, "that you would be the first to speak out, and that you would prove by your own conduct that I was right in saying yesterday, when we went to bed, that women are babblers?"

Everyone was surprised at the proceeding; nor could any of them comprehend the meaning of what was passing between my wife and me; until I explained the kind of wager we had made overnight, before going to sleep.

"What!" they exclaimed. "Was it for a leaf of betel that you have spread this alarm through your own house and the whole village? For a leaf of betel that you showed such constancy, and suffered burning from the feet to the head upwards? Never in the world was there seen such folly!"

And so, from that time, I have been constantly known by the name of Betel Anantya.




The Opium Eaters and the Open Gate

Turkey

Certain opium eaters, while walking about, found a sequin. They said, "Let us go to a cook and buy food and eat." So they went and entered a cook shop and said, "Master, give us a sequin's worth of food."

The cook prepared all manner of foods and loaded a porter with them. And the opium eaters took him outside the city where there was a tomb [enclosed by four walls]. They entered and sat down, and the porter laid down the food and went away. The opium eaters fell to eating the food, when suddenly one of them said, "The gate is open. Stop, one of you shut the gate, or else other opium eaters will come and trouble us. Even though they be friends, they will do the deeds of foes."

One of them replied, "You go and shut the gate," and they began to quarrel.

At length one said, "Come, let us agree that the one of us who first speaks shall get up and fasten the gate."

They all agreed to this proposal, and left the food and sat quite still. Suddenly a she-dog and fifteen dogs came in. Not one of the opium eaters stirred or spoke, for if one spoke, he would need to get up and shut the gate, so no one spoke. The dogs made an end of the food and ate it all up. Just then another dog leaped in from outside, but no food remained. Now one of the opium eaters had partaken of everything, and some of the food remained about his mouth and on his beard. The newly arrived dog licked up the morsels of food that were on the opium eater's breast, and while he was licking up those about his mouth he took his lip for a piece of meat and bit it. The opium eater did not stir, for he said to himself, "They will ask me to shut the gate," but to ease his soul, he muttered "Ouch!" inwardly cursing the dog.

When the other opium eaters heard him make that noise they said, "Get up and fasten the gate!"

He replied, "Caution follows loss. Now that the food is gone and my lip is wounded, what need is there to shut the gate? Through negligence and folly you have let these very good things slip from your hands."

And crying "Woe! Alas!" they went each in a different direction.




Sennuccio and Bedovina

Italy

One evening Sennuccio and his wife Bedovina were seated near the door of the house to take the air a little, for the season was very warm. Said Sennuccio to his wife, "Bedovina, shut the door, for now it is time for us to get to bed."

To this request she made reply that he might shut the door himself; and as they went on thus disputing, without either one consenting to shut the door, Sennuccio said,"Bedovina, let us make a bargain, that the one who shall speak first shall shut the door."

The wife, who was both lazy by nature and obstinate by habit, agreed to this; so Sennuccio and Bedovina sat on, lazy wretches as they were, neither one daring to speak for fear of incurring the penalty of having to shut the door. The good woman, however, soon began to weary of the sport, and growing heavy with sleep she left her husband sitting on a bench, and, having taken off her clothes, went to bed.

A short time after this there passed through the street the serving-man of a certain gentleman, who was going back to his house. At this moment it chanced that the candle in the lantern which he carried went out, and, observing that Sennuccio's house was yet open, he went in and said, "Ho, there! is anyone within? Give me a light for my candle." But no one answered him.

The servant, having gone a little further into the house, observed Sennuccio, who was sitting with his eyes wide open upon the bench, and made bold to ask him for a light, but the lazy fellow vouchsafed not a word in reply. Whereupon the servant, deeming that Sennuccio was fast asleep, took him by the hand and began to jog him, saying, "Good brother, what ails you? Answer me quick."

But Sennuccio was not asleep, and only held his tongue through fear of being amerced in the penalty of having to shut the door, so he kept silent. Then the servant went on a little further, and remarked a faint light on a hearth where the embers were yet alive, and when he entered the inner room he found no one there save only Bedovina, who was lying alone in the bed. He called to her and shook her roughly more than once, but she, like her husband, in order not to incur the penalty of having to shut the door, would neither speak nor stir.

The servant, having taken a good look at her, found her comely, though miserly of her words, so he laid himself softly down beside her, and though not over well furnished for the task he undertook, contrived to accomplish it, Bedovina keeping dead silence all the while and quietly allowing him to do what he would with her, though her husband saw all that went on.

And when the young man had gone his way Bedovina got out of bed, and, going to the door, found there her husband, who was yet awake, and by way of chiding him thus spake: "A fine husband you are, certes! You have left me lying all night with the door wide open, giving thereby free course for any lewd fellows to come into the house, and never lifting your hand to keep them back. You of a truth ought to be made to drink out of a shoe with a hole in it."

Whereupon the lazy rascal rose to his feet and gave answer to her in this wise: "Now go and shut the door, little fool that you are! Now I am equal with you. You, forsooth, thought you were going to make me shut the door, and you find yourself properly tricked. This is the way headstrong folk are always punished."

Bedovina, seeing that she had indeed lost the wager she had made, and at the same time enjoyed a merry night, shut the door forthwith, and went to bed with her cuckoldly knave of a husband.




The Wager

Italy

There was once a husband and a wife. The former said one day to the latter, "Let us have some fritters."

She replied, "What shall we do for a frying pan?"

"Go and borrow one from my godmother."

"You go and get it; it is only a little way off."

"Go yourself; I will take it back when we are done with it."

So she went and borrowed the pan, and when she returned said to her husband, "Here is the pan, but you must carry it back."

So they cooked the fritters, and after they had eaten, the husband said, "Now let us go to work, both of us, and the one who speaks first shall carry back the pan." Then she began to spin and he to draw his thread -- for he was a shoemaker -- and all the time keeping silence, except that when he drew his thread he said, "Leulerò, leulerò;" and she, spinning, answered, "Piciciì, picicì, piciciò." And they said not another word.

Now there happened to pass that way a soldier with a horse, and he asked a woman if there was any shoemaker in that street. She said that there was one nearby, and took him to the house. The soldier asked the shoemaker to come and cut his horse a girth, and he would pay him. The latter made no answer but, "Leulerò, leulerò;" and his wife, "Piciciì, picicì, piciciò."

Then the soldier said, "Come and cut my horse a girth, or I will cut your head off!" The shoemaker only answered, "Leulerò, leulerò;" and his wife, "Piciciì, picicì, piciciò."

Then the soldier began to grow angry, and seized his sword and said to the shoemaker, "Either come and cut my horse a girth, or I will cut your head off!" But to no purpose. The shoemaker did not wish to be the first one to speak, and only replied, "Leulerò, leulerò;" and his wife, "Piciciì, picicì, piciciò."

Then the soldier got mad in good earnest, seized the shoemaker's head, and was going to cut it off. When his wife saw that, she cried out, "Ah! don't, for mercy's sake!"

"Good!" exclaimed her husband. "Now you go and carry the pan back to my godmother, and I will go and cut the horse's girth." And so he did, and won the wager.




The Porridge Pot

Flanders

Once upon a time there were a man and a woman. One evening they did not know what to eat. Finally the man spoke, "Wife, let us eat porridge."

"No," said the woman, "for then tomorrow I would have to wash out the porridge pot, and I won't do that."

"I won't do it either," said the man, and they fell to quarreling who would have to wash out the porridge pot. Finally they agreed that the first one of them to speak would have to wash it out.

They ate their porridge and went to bed. The next morning neither of them said anything about getting up. Seven o'clock came, eight o'clock, even twelve o'clock, and the two still lay in bed. The neighbors were concerned and said to one another, "Robbers must have come and murdered both of them."

So they broke down the door, entered the bedroom, and told them to get up, but received no answer. Then one of the neighbors said, "Wait, let's fetch the priest so they can say their confessions."

The priest came, but they refused to say their confessions, remaining as still as mice. The priest went home, and the two remained lying there until evening, and neither said a word. Then the priest returned and asked, "Have they said anything yet?"

"No," replied the neighbors.

"Then stay here and care for them!" said the priest.

"Yes, and who is going to pay us for it?" asked the neighbors.

The priest answered, "You'll be paid. There is a good coat hanging on the wall over there. Take it and sell it, and then you'll have your money."

With that the woman cried out with anger, "What? You want to take my coat? Take your own things, but leave other people's things to them."

"Aha," said the man. "Now go and wash out the porridge pot!" And so the woman had to wash out the porridge pot.




The Obstinate Shoemaker

Denmark

Once upon a time there was a shoemaker who doted on pancakes. One day he asked his wife to bake him some for dinner. She replied that she was willing enough, but there was no pan in the house, and if he wished for pancakes, he had better go and borrow one from the neighbor. He complied, and at dinner he ate as rapidly as his wife could bake. When they had finished their meal, the shoemaker told his wife to carry the pan back to its owner. She refused, however, and declared that she did not like to carry back borrowed articles. As he insisted, they nearly came to blows, but finally they agreed to go to work, and the one who spoke first should return the pan to its owner.

The shoemaker seated himself on his platform, sewing and handling his shoes and his leather. His wife took her seat by her spinning wheel, and soon they were working as if life depended upon their handiness. Neither uttered a sound.

In a short time a squire who lived in the neighborhood, and who had given a pair of shoes to the shoemaker to repair, passed the house, bid his coachman stop, and sent his servant in, asking him to see whether his shoes were finished.

The servant walked in, greeted, and delivered his errand.

"Whew, whe-ew, whe-e-e-e-e-e-ew!" whistled the shoemaker, who sat on his three-legged chair, battling with the air, and sewing diligently.

As the servant could not draw a single word from him by way of answer, he turned to the woman, whose spinning wheel went so rapidly that sparks flew from it. "How is it," asked he, "that your husband does not answer when I talk to him?"

"Tralalalide-lide-raderade-lidelidelidelidelide-ralala!" sang the woman at the top of her voice, spinning with all her might and looking straight into his face.

The servant saw that there was nothing for him to do but return to his master in the carriage. The two people must have lost their senses!

When he reached the carriage, the squire asked him if the shoes were finished.

"I don't know," replied he. "The shoemaker and his wife must have lost their senses. The man whistles and the woman sings, and those are all the sounds they utter. They would not say as much as one plain word."

The squire alighted to see what had happened to the persons within. "If they pretend to make fun of their customers, I shall teach them manners," said he to himself. "Here they are, and here I come." So he opened the door and walked in.

The shoemaker whistled with all his might as soon as the squire opened his mouth to speak. The woman sang and shouted with all her might; but neither of them seemed to notice his question as to the shoes. At length he became vexed, seized his riding whip, and lifted it over the woman's shoulders. The shoemaker stole a glance at them, but said nothing.

A minute later the whip was dancing lustily across the shoulder blades of the woman, who at once struck up a new tune, but less merry than before. But this was too much for the shoemaker. He jumped from his seat, rushed at the squire, and bid him stop.

"Ah," exclaimed the squire. "You are not mute. I am pleased to know that your voice is in as good working order as your fingers seem to be."

"You spoke first," cried the woman to her husband, "and you must carry the pan back to our neighbor!"

Now they told the squire of their quarrel and agreement, and it greatly amused him when he learned that he had settled the dispute. I do not know whether or not his shoes were finished; but that cuts no figure. I saw, however, the shoemaker when he slouched through the back yard with the pan carefully concealed under his coat. It served him right that his wife won the wager. What do you think?




Johnie Blunt

Scotland, Robert Burns

There liv'd a man in yonder glen,
And John Blunt was his name, O;
He maks gude maut, and he brews gude ale,
And he bears a wondrous fame, O.

The wind blew in the hallan ae night,
Fu' snell out o'er the moor, O;
"Rise up, rise up, auld Luckie," he says,
"Rise up and bar the door, O."

They made a paction tween them twa,
They made it firm and sure, O,
Whae'er sud speak the foremost word,
Should rise and bar the door, O.

Three travellers that had tint their gate,
As thro' the hills they foor, O,
They airted by the line o' light
Fu' straight to Johnie Blunt's door, O.

They haurl'd auld Luckie out o' her bed,
And laid her on the floor, O;
But never a word auld Luckie wad say,
For barrin o' the door, O.

"Ye've eaten my bread, ye hae druken my ale,
And ye'll mak my auld wife a whore, O"
"Aha Johnie Blunt! ye hae spoke the first word,
Get up and bar the door, O."




The Barring of the Door

Scotland

It fell about the Martinmas time,
And a gay time it was then;
When our gudewife gat puddings to make,
And she's boiled them in the pan.

The wind sae cauld blew south and north,
And blew intil the floor;
Quoth our gudeman to our gudewife,
"Get up and bar the door."

"My hand is in my hussyskep,
Gudeman, as ye may see,
An it shouldna be barr'd this hundred year,
It's no be barr'd for me!"

They made a paction 'tween them twa,
They made it firm and sure;
That wha should speak the foremost word
Should rise and bar the door.

Then by there came twa gentlemen
At twelve o'clock at night,
And they could neither see house nor hall,
Nor coal nor candle-light.

"Now, whether is this a rich man's house,
Or whether is it a poor?"
But never a word would ane o' them speak,
For barring of the door.

And first they ate the white puddings,
And then they ate the black;
Though muckle thought the gudewife to hersel,
Yet ne'er a word she spak.

Then said the one unto the other,
"Here, man, tak ye my knife,
Do ye tak aff the auld man's beard,
And I'll kiss the gudewife!"

"But there's nae water in the house,
And what shall we do then?"
"What ails ye at the puddin' broo,
That boils into the pan?"

0 up then started our gudeman,
And an angry man was he;
"Will ye kiss my wife before my e'en,
And scaud me wi' puddin' bree?"

Then up and started our gudewife,
Gied three skips on the floor;
"Gudeman! ye've spoke the foremost word --
Get up and bar the door!"




The Beggar and the Five Muffins

India

In a certain village there lived a poor beggar and his wife. The man used to go out every morning with a clean vessel in his hand, return home with rice enough for the day's meal, and thus they lived on in extreme poverty.

One day a poor Mádhava Brahmin invited the pair to a feast, and among Mádhavas muffins (tôsai) are always a part of the good things on festive occasions. So during the feast the beggar and his wife had their fill of muffins. They were so pleased with them, that the woman was extremely anxious to prepare some muffins in her own house, and began to save a little rice every day from what her husband brought her for the purpose.

When enough had been thus collected she begged a poor neighbor's wife to give her a little black pulse, which the latter -- praised be her charity -- readily did. The faces of the beggar and his wife literally glowed with joy that day, for were they not to taste the long-desired muffins for a second time?

The woman soon turned the rice she had been saving, and the black pulse she had obtained form her neighbor into a paste, and mixing it well with a little salt, green chilies, coriander seed, and curds, set it in a pan on the fire. And with her mouth watering all the while, prepared five muffins. By the time her husband had returned from his collection of alms, she was just turning out of the pan the fifth muffin. And when she placed the whole five muffins before him, his mouth, too, began to water.

He kept two for himself and two he place before his wife. But what was to be done with the fifth? He did not understand the way out of this difficulty. That half and half made one, and that each could take two and a half muffins was a question too hard for him to solve. The beloved muffins must not be torn in pieces. So he said to his wife that either he or she must take the remaining one. But how were they to decide which should be the lucky one?

Proposed the husband, "Let us both shut our eyes and stretch ourselves as if in sleep, each on a verandah on either side of the kitchen. Whoever opens an eye and speaks first gets only two muffins, and the other gets three."

So great was the desire of each to get the three muffins, that they both abided by the agreement, and the woman, though her mouth watered for the muffins, resolved to go through the ordeal. She placed the five cakes in a pan and covered it over with another pan. She then carefully bolted the door inside, and asking her husband to go into the east verandah, she lay down in the west one. Sleep she had none, and with closed eyes kept guard over her husband, for if he spoke first, he would have only two muffins, and the other three would come to her share. Equally watchful was her husband over her.

Thus passed one whole day -- two -- three! The house was never opened. No beggar came to receive the morning dole. The whole village began to inquire after the missing beggar. What had become of him? What had become of his wife?

"See whether his house is locked on the outside and whether he has left us to go to some other village," spoke the gray-heads.

So the village watchman came and tried to push the door open, but it would not open.

"Surely," said they, "it is locked on the inside! Some great calamity must have happened. Perhaps thieves have entered the house, and after plundering their property, murdered the inmates."

"But what property is a beggar likely to have?" thought the village assembly, and not liking to waste time in idle speculations, they sent two watchmen to climb the roof and open the latch from the inside.

Meanwhile the whole village -- men, women, and children -- stood outside the beggar's house to see what had taken place inside. The watchmen jumped into the house, and to their horror found the beggar and his wife stretched on opposite verandahs like two corpses. They opened the door, and the whole village rushed in. They too saw the beggar and his wife lying so still that they thought them to be dead. And though the beggar pair had heard everything that passed around them, neither would open an eye or speak, for whoever did it first would get only two muffins!

At the public expense of the village, two green litters of bamboo and coconut leaves were prepared on which to remove the unfortunate pair to the cremation ground.

"How loving they must have been to have died together like this!" said some gray-beards of the village.

In time the cremation ground was reached, and village watchmen had collected a score of dried cow-dung cakes and a bundle of firewood from each house for the funeral pyre. From these charitable contributions two pyres had been prepared, one for the man and one for the woman. The pyre was then lighted, and when the fire approached his leg, the man thought it time to give up the ordeal and to be satisfied with only two muffins.

So while the villagers were still continuing the funeral rites, they suddenly heard a voice, "I shall be satisfied with two muffins!"

Immediately another voice replied from the woman's pyre, "I have gained the day. Let me have the three!"

The villagers were amazed and ran away. One bold man alone stood face to face with the supposed dead husband and wife. He was a bold man, indeed, for when a dead man or a man supposed to have died comes to life, village people consider him to be a ghost. However, this bold villager questioned the beggars until he came to know their story. He then went after the runaways and related to them the whole story of the five muffins, to their great amazement.

But what was to be done to the people who had thus voluntarily faced death out of love for muffins?

Persons who had ascended the green litter and slept on the funeral pyre could never come back to the village! If they did the whole village would perish. So the elders built a small hut in a deserted meadow outside the village and made the beggar and his wife live there.

Ever after that memorable day, our hero and his wife were called the muffin beggar and the muffin beggar's wife, and many old ladies and young children from the village used to bring them muffins in the morning and evening, out of pity for them, for had they not loved muffins so much that they underwent death in life?




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Revised June 7, 2013.